Downtown Market farmers’ market a well-heeled oasis in the food desert

Downtown Market Sign

Downtown Market Farmers’ Market signage. Is this a mixed message?

By Stelle Slootmaker, OKT Communications Officer

For the past three weeks, I have stopped at the Downtown Market farmers’ market to pick up my very generous CSA share from Green Wagon Farm.

On each occasion, I have been discouraged to note that much of the other food sold here is of the gourmet variety with very high prices. For example, goat cheese for $1 an ounce (that’s $16 a pound); 2 mini donut bites for $2; artisan bread, $6 a loaf; or organic blue eggs, $6 a dozen.

The shoppers that I’ve seen patronizing the market seem to be the type who can afford these prices. A large gathering of homeless and income challenged folks seem corralled in the park just a block away. But it may as well be miles.

That said, I have been able to find more reasonably priced items from Green Wagon, Visser Brothers, Creswick Farm and a few others–free range eggs for $3.00 and strawberries for $3.75 a quart. But would a person or family with income challenges feel comfortable shopping here? I doubt it.

In my opinion, this market is one more successful example of why we need an alternative to the existing food and agriculture system.

This market is thriving, as is big agribusiness and the food industry as a whole. But I doubt that it does much to provide “food desert” families access to healthy foods. A local blog, Food Deserted, asked the question, “Will this market serve the desert? Or, will it be an oasis that is too expensive for the poor?”

At my first glance, I am afraid the answer is the latter.

6 thoughts on “Downtown Market farmers’ market a well-heeled oasis in the food desert

  1. I agree with you Stelle. Farmers’ markets are great for those who can afford the premium prices. Generally my wife and I choose to sacrifice somewhere else to afford good food. This is why I spent an unplanned hour today hauling soil for friends at a public housing facility as they built their community garden beds. It is why I have enjoyed many planned hours of brainstorming with them and coordinating their work.

    I really do believe that OKT has it right in focusing on community gardening and following it up with the Southeast Side Farmers’ Market. The former is really a great way to leverege a little time into great produce. The later opens up opportunities that would not exist for both buyers and sellers.


  2. Thank you for this article…these are the kind of discussions we citizens of GR need to be having. There seems to be a blind civic pride in GR these days that isn’t asking deeper questions about who is really benefitting from all of this “development”. Thank you for the inspiration and not being afraid to shine light on some uncomfortable truths.

  3. The sign featured in the article is very unwelcoming if you are using SNAP, DUFB, SENIOR FRESH, or WIC. It seems to imply that if you do, you are someone who might panhandle, loiter, or solicit.

  4. It’s just my opinion, but the ‘argument’ here leaves out the farmer; creating a living wage for the farmer by being able to sell quality products at a premium price is a benefit to the farmer which may lead to expanding their farming capacity and/or ability. The op-ed also leaves out the potential that these farmers may already be providing food items to under-resourced or income challenged through other avenues that are not visible at the downtown market; that would be a question that would need to be posed to the farmers themselves. The real question may be better geared toward addressing the need for programs to come along side the poor or under-resourced in order to get them the same quality food, not necessarily creating a low-cost market. Additionally, the question could be addressed about co-op and community gardens gifting food to the under-resourced.

    I believe Well House is planning to address this, somewhat, by providing affordable housing to homeless as well as creating a garden to allow the under-resourced residents to grow their own high-quality seasonal goods – thereby eliminating the need for a ‘cheap’ farmers market. That story could be a better focus rather than a negatively leaning “high-end” exposé.

    • I do not mean to minimalzise the hard work of small farmers serving the local food economy nor suggest that they are intentionally passing by people who are income-challenged. The current food system, and in particular a Farm Bill that aggrandizes Big Ag while making small farming more andmore difficult from a financial aspect, is at the heart of undernourishment and hunger in our nation.

      That said, many food-insecure people live within walking distance of the Downtown Market–not only homeless but also working poor. In the planning stage, this surrounding demographic was excluded from the planning process. I also mentioned that while there are some more “reasonably” priced items available, the atmosphere of the Downtown Market may seem less than inviting to those shopping with SNAP or WIC.

  5. Pingback: “Support Local Food” discussion did not address Downtown Market concerns | Our Kitchen Table

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